His nerves are shot. He knows his third cup of coffee in less than an hour isn’t likely to help, but the small café along the waterfront in Rostock is his only refuge. He stares at his copy of Neues Deutschland as the events of the last 48 hours continue to race through his mind. A middle-aged man in a gray overcoat and black fedora suddenly slides into the only other seat at his small table.
“Guten Morgen, Kampfried.”
Kampfried is nearly in a panic. Certain that he is about to feel the full wrath of the DDR’s dreaded STASI, he is mute.
The waiter approaches.
“Kaffe, bitte,” the stranger orders.
The waiter looks at Kampfried who simply shakes his head to indicate he wants nothing. The waiter departs.
The stranger addresses Kampfried in barely audible English.
“You look like a man who’s afraid to go to sleep.”
“English! Is this some sort of STASI trick?” Kampfried thinks to himself.
“Ich verstehe nicht.”
“Bullshit. You understand every goddam word I’m saying, so you can drop the act.”
The waiter returns with the stranger’s coffee. The stranger reaches into his overcoat and pulls out an envelope. Kampfried’s eyes bulge almost to the point of popping when he recognizes the envelope. He can see it is still full of West German 100 mark notes. The man takes the only East German five mark note from the envelope and hands it to the waiter. The waiter begins to fish for change from a pocket in his apron.
The waiter once again departs.
“Here’s your money back. She won’t be needing it.”
The stranger tosses the envelope at Kampfried who, with his hands trembling badly, eventually manages to put it into the breast pocket of his jacket.
“Who are you?”
“A friend. What did she tell you?”
“Did you kill her?”
“Don’t be a sap. She was killed by your fucking secret police before I could talk to her.”
“Then how did you get the money?”
“Picked it off the body your dedicated public servants left lying on the pavement. Look, you’ve probably got about 24 hours to live. I can help you, but not if you don’t tell me what she told you.”
“It was about my brother.”
“He shot himself.”
“How do you know?”
“We’ve been watching your brother since the end of the war. He’s lucky he wasn’t prosecuted at Nürnberg. Now what else did she tell you? You’ve got ten seconds or I’m out of here and you’re on your own.”
Kampfried hangs his head in defeat and mumbles, “He was doing some experiments.”
“Yes. Of course. He was a doctor.”
“Bullshit, round two. We both know he was a butcher, Emile. What kind of medical experiments?”
“She said he was injecting patients with the polio virus.”
“A sick fuck right to the end. I guess a tiger really can’t change its stripes.”
“What about me?”
“What about you?”
“Can you help me? I just wanted to find out how my brother died.”
“You’ve been living with the Commies since 1945 and you still don’t know you’re not supposed to ask any questions? I thought you were smarter than that, Emile.”
“Can you help me?”
“Sure I can. Tonight. There’s a freighter bound for Gdansk, the Nadezhda Krupskaya. Departure from Rostock is 11:30 p.m. local time. Be dockside by 11:15.”
“Gdansk? What happens in Gdansk?”
“Nothing. We’ll get you off the Krupskaya about two hours out. A launch will take you to Malmø. I’ll be on board to make sure you get to Sweden. You just have to stay alive until 11:15 tonight. Think you can handle that?”
The stranger stands. Emile, once again unable to speak, says nothing.
“I guess we’ll find out. No suitcases. The clothes on your back and whatever you can stuff in your pockets. You’re not coming back.”
The stranger, former Berlin freelancer Cliff Thompson, departs leaving Emile Kampfried as terrified as he was in the spring of 1945 when it seemed like the entire Soviet Army was heading straight for Rostock.